Katie Fussenegger: “ake care of “you” so you can take care of them”

We live on acreage and enjoy time outdoors quite often as a family. We consistently take time to walk & RTV through the trails, which provides us with a unique time to chat with our kids and enjoy nature. It is an opportunity for us all to be care-free, relaxed and just absorb the solace outside. […]

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We live on acreage and enjoy time outdoors quite often as a family. We consistently take time to walk & RTV through the trails, which provides us with a unique time to chat with our kids and enjoy nature. It is an opportunity for us all to be care-free, relaxed and just absorb the solace outside.

As a part of my series about “How extremely busy executives make time to be great parents” I had the pleasure to interview Katie Fussenegger.

Katie Fussenegger is the Vice President of Kentucky Derby Museum where Every Day is Derby Day! Prior to joining KDM, Katie served as President & CEO of the ShelbyKY Tourism Commission for twelve years. She holds a Bachelor’s in Communication from The University of Louisville; has earned her CTIS certification from Indiana & Purdue University; received CTP certification from the KY Tourism Council; and graduated with a Tourism Marketing Professional certification from STS Marketing College at the University of North Georgia. She has Chaired the KY Tourism Department’s Bourbon, Horses & History Marketing Region; currently serves on the Executive Board of Directors for the Kentucky Tourism Industry Association; and served as the KY Association of Convention and Visitors Bureaus President. While not serving the Travel Industry of Kentucky, she lives in Shelbyville, KY, with her husband, Joe, and their eight-year-old daughter and five-year-old son.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us your “childhood backstory”?

I grew up in a rural community just outside of Louisville. I had a very traditional home with a quasi-stay-at-home Mom and Dad who provided for the household. I enjoyed being an only child for approximately 10 years before my baby brother entered the world as a welcomed addition to our family. My mom owned her own business, which supplied the opportunity to still ‘stay-at-home’ with us. I realized very early on that hard work is the key to success. She volunteered at our schools, toted us to every sport (& horse show — for me) we desired to participate in and brought joy to every holiday & birthday celebration! My Dad taught me many things; including ways to truly enjoy the land in which we lived and how boring it is to sit idle — you never know what you’ll discover by getting out & working hard.

Can you share the story about what brought you to this specific point in your career?

When planning for a career, I initially had my sights set on something in the Criminal Justice/ Forensics field, which later developed into a dental career path. After several years in school and numerous medical classes under my belt, I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis. This diagnosis made me pause in life’s direction. In a state of unrest, my grandfather, who at the time worked for a DMO (Destination Marketing Organization), asked if I’d like to intern with him over the summer. I agreed and immediately became hooked — as I had been introduced to what would soon become my passion…the Tourism and Hospitality industry.

I’ve now skipped from leadership in the DMO community, to serving one of the greatest attractions in the world. I get up every day knowing that my ‘why’ is to serve others by creating a one-of-a-kind bucket-list worthy experience (yes, even in Kentucky)! I practice developmental skills each day, as I strive to go above and beyond with a team that is equally as passionate about the guest experience as I am. I rise each day to enrich the world with the beauty and art of hospitality and ensure each person has a top-notch memory to reflect upon.

Can you tell us a bit more about what your day to day schedule looks like?

No day is the same …meetings, discussions with outside partners, budgeting, financial reports, experience generation and maybe even a meet & greet with a Thoroughbred. All in a day’s work, right? In my role as Vice President, I oversee various aspects of daily operations at Kentucky Derby Museum, provide leadership oversight and work to increase revenue for various departments, including Visitor Services, Retail and Membership. I oversee proper execution of the Museum’s overall budget, while maintaining and tracking financial records of multiple departmental budgets. Most recently, I oversaw the reopening plans and safety/health practices relating to the COVID-19 crisis. Additionally, I assist in hiring, developing and appraising staff, alongside the President & CEO.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the core of our discussion. This is probably intuitive to many, but it would be beneficial to spell it out. Based on your experience or research, can you flesh out why not spending time with your children can be detrimental to their development?

Earlier in my career, when travel was necessary to build the brand and make connections for the DMO, I noticed that as my children began to gain age, they acted out in order to garner my attention. There was always a grieving period, which was necessary in earning back their trust, specifically, my daughter’s. I think the more time we fail to spend with our children, the further stagnation we create to their growth, development and overall wellbeing. Whether it is warranted or not, kids idolize their parents and many times we fall short. Nonetheless, that should never stop us from pursuing to be better. Taking time to read with them, play games, and listen to our little ones provides them with the confidence, understanding and insight they need in the bigger world. They need support from day-one in order to navigate through life.

On the flip side, can you give a few reasons or examples about why it is so important to make time to spend with your children?

Children grow when others believe in them, they need the funding of time and teaching to make their way in the world.

  1. When both of our little ones were babies, we read to them. For our daughter, this created her love for reading and for our son, it gave him the confidence to keep up with his big sister’s reading prowess.
  2. We taught (& continue to teach) our kids that we need to share our blessings with others. Volunteering, fundraising, baked goods, small cards & gifts are something we have consistently included our kids in from the moment they were old enough to understand. God has blessed us beyond measure and it is our job to share what we have with the world. The kids find great satisfaction in the cards and baked goods especially and I love that we are showing them that caring for others can bring great joy.

According to this study cited in the Washington Post, the quality of time spent with children is more important than the quantity of time. Can you give a 3–5 stories or examples from your own life about what you do to spend quality time with your children?

  1. We live on acreage and enjoy time outdoors quite often as a family. We consistently take time to walk & RTV through the trails, which provides us with a unique time to chat with our kids and enjoy nature. It is an opportunity for us all to be care-free, relaxed and just absorb the solace outside.
  2. We regularly have “dates” with our kids. Having two littles close in age means they often go together with one parent, or both of us. We regularly try to take time for parent one-on-ones. In all honesty, it is more often than not a time to run errands, but additionally a period to devote to one of our little, allowing them to freely share opinions, thoughts and experiences. It makes us appreciate the nuances of their personalities and allows them to inquire about us as well. We typically try to add in a special “treat” while we do the necessary errands, as well.
  3. We are fortunate enough to vacation once or twice a year and the time that we get with our kiddos in such an uninterrupted and focused way is so rewarding as a parent. We are focused on them and the time we have free of normal distractions is something we really cherish. Even if it’s an activity within driving distance, or just for a couple of hours on an adventure, it’s always worth the time and planning.
  4. Another thing we do to spend quality time is invite them to bake with us, most often by making Saturday breakfast. They assist in constructing the menu and actually fixing whatever choice they make. Sometimes it requires a little bit of assistance from Dad or Mom, but that is another ritual we hold dear.

We all live in a world with many deadlines and incessant demands for our time and attention. That inevitably makes us feel rushed and we may feel that we can’t spare the time to be “fully present” with our children. Can you share with our readers 5 strategies about how we can create more space in our lives in order to give our children more quality attention? Please include examples or stories for each, if you can.

  1. I relish the 30 or so minutes it takes to commute home and use that as “me time” to decompress, listen to music, a book or utter silence. This time to power-down from the work day generally allows me to hit the front door and be able to focus on the kids. It is our tradition to either take time upon arrival home or at the dinner table to discuss their day. Occasionally, my husband or I will share interesting stories of our own time at work so that the kids understand what it’s like in the workplace.
  2. Time at home is just that. I am the first person to always give my career my all but a mentor once told me “We do not do brain surgery around here. Be sure to ask yourself if the task/question/issue is really a life or death matter.” I find myself in the evenings asking that question when I hear the ding of an email or work-related message. It’s one thing that holds true and keeps me focused at home. Now, if you do brain surgery, you should probably pick up that phone!
  3. Take care of “you” so you can take care of them. I want my children to know that I am at my best and sometimes that means an extra early bed time for everyone, if the week has been a lot to handle. Everyone will feel refreshed the next day and we can start over.
  4. Build your team or tribe — it truly takes a village to get kids where they need to be, meetings accomplished and food on the table. Recognize immediately that you cannot do it alone (rather it’s not healthy to do it all yourself) and surround yourself with individuals that support you. Give yourself grace to stumble, as it is inevitable for everyone and lean on your support system when things do not go as planned.
  5. LEARN. All that you can — read, listen and absorb, from everyone! Lessons do not always occur when you expect them — good and bad life lessons are all around us. It takes a lot of diligence to be a good parent. Also, expect to not always have the right answer. There is value in knowing how NOT to handle a situation as well! Kids ask tough questions sometimes but the best thing I have done is embrace the lessons around me in order to answer those difficult scenarios.

How do you define a “good parent”? Can you give an example or story?

  1. I define a good parent by someone who takes time to spend with their child in their (the child’s) interest or activity. Many times, it does not come naturally to “play” like it does my husband. Nonetheless, I do make my best effort to step into their world.
  2. I define a good parent by someone who has rules & structure and holds to their promises. If your child cannot have faith in your word and integrity, how do you expect the broader world to do so?

After being ill, our young son who is very rambunctious and full of energy was relegated to low activity. My husband immediately went out and found Legos, puzzles, coloring books, etc. and spent the time with him. What made this such a selfless act is that my husband is built just like my son and to sit idle is completely out of character for him as well.

Additionally, no matter the school assignment, my husband always goes all in. He never meets a project that he doesn’t help to conquer (only when the kids request it, of course). Taking the time and making the sacrifice of doing for others makes a “good parent” indeed.

How do you inspire your child to “dream big”? Can you give an example or story?

It has been our greatest desire to show our children that with hard work comes reward. I never reexamine their grand thoughts or ideas, but communicate that they must work hard and devote time to see things through. In that same lesson, we do discuss that life does not always work out how we had hoped. Never be afraid to tackle the unexpected and pursue what you want in life. We will always be there to support them on their journey and be their biggest cheerleaders!

How do you, a person who masterfully straddles the worlds of career and family, define “success”?

Success is balance. I know many have coined the phrase work-life balance and many experts have stated there is no such thing, but we could all use a bit more grace in the world. No one is perfect and the drive to strive for such perfection is unrealistic. Success is doing the best you can in the circumstances that you’re in and hoping that you made the best decisions within the confines of knowledge at present.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a better parent? Can you explain why you like them?

I’m a huge fan of the Rachel Cruz Show, which provides mainly financial advice, but as a parent of similar-aged children, I relate to her anecdotes and family lessons quite a bit. I also just downloaded the book Boundaries with Kids by Henry Cloud as I really enjoyed Boundaries for Leaders.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“You’re not doing something right if you’re not making somebody mad.”

Progress and growth do not arrive without pain from change. We will never make everyone we serve happy as administrators and I have used that methodology throughout my entire life. As leaders, we must come to the conclusive decision that is best for the greater good and thus, not everyone will agree. It’s also difficult to not be liked as a parent, but our job is not to be our child’s best friend — we must make conclusive decisions that benefit them in the long term!

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would love to see it be a standard benefit to offer paid time for volunteerism. Companies would have an expanded & vested interested in the communities in which they serve and we would see a more connected municipality. Could you imagine how much of an impact that would make?

Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!

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